Understanding the role coffee processing plays in the development of your green coffee beans is crucial to understanding a bean’s story. This week we look at both pulped natural and honey processed coffee because they are so similar, and are effectively hybrids of both washed and natural process coffees.
Remember. Washed process coffees use copious amounts of water to remove all the skin and mucilage from the coffee beans before drying. Natural/Dry processed coffees leave everything intact and slowly dry on beds until the fruit is dry and dense enough to remove mechanically.
The Goal. Both pulped naturals (native to Brazil) and honey process were pioneered as a way to conserve water like dry process coffees do, while also achieving the consistency of washed process coffees.
The Hybrid Method. The first step in pulped natural and honey processed coffees is the use of water to sort defective/unripe beans from the healthy fruit. This step is absolutely essential to controlling consistency.
Once the sorting is complete, the skin and fruit are mechanically removed from the bean before they are moved to raised beds or patios to dry just like naturals.
Pulped Natural vs. Honey Process. Pulped natural and honey process are virtually the same in all respects but one: pulped natural removes only the skin while honey process removes the skin and some amount of the fruit mucilage.
Honey processing also allows farmers to take things a step further by controlling the amount of fruit left on the bean before drying. It’s also important to note that honey process coffees are often referred to in terms of the percentage of fruit left on the bean (e.g. 50% honey, 20% honey, etc.). The final amount is chosen to achieve a desired balance of fruit complexity and uniformity.
(You’ll sometimes hear “honey process” referred to as “miel,” the Spanish term for “honey,” which refers to the sticky, sugary mucilage on the bean — there is no bee honey used in honey process.)
Taste. Just as the natural pulped and honey process methods draw inspiration from both washed and dry process, their flavor profile is often a hybrid of both as well.
Removing all the fruit as you would in washed coffees creates uniformity and fewer risks of mold and rotting during the drying phase, which promotes a bright, clean, and balanced cup. While the natural/dry method is more complicated, the sugars, alcohol, and microorganisms work on the coffees to create a deep, fruit complexity and milder acidity.
It goes without saying, then, that tinkering with the skin removal in pulped natural process or the amount of residual fruit in the honey process gives the farmers lots of sway over how they want to tease out certain traits in their coffees.
Again, it’s hard to overstate the number of ground-breaking coffees that are finding their way into the supply chain. The Thai honey coffee that we've been drinking all week is a living testament to this!